First Nations Vow to Rebuild Leveled Burns Lake Sawmill After Explosion and Fire Kill Two Aboriginal Men
Authorities are investigating the cause of an explosion and fire that killed two aboriginal men, injured 19 and leveled a sawmill in Burns Lake, British Columbia, on January 20.
The men’s bodies were discovered on Sunday and Monday, respectfully, the second one pulled from the smoldering rubble by searchers with a disaster response unit.
Pending official identification of the deceased by the British Columbia Coroners Service, family members confirmed to CBC News that the two are Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi, both members of Burns Lake–area First Nations.
The coroner had said that further testing is required to confirm their identities officially because of the intensity of the blaze.
Charlie was a father of three and a member of the Babine Lake First Nation. Luggi was a father and grandfather and belonged to the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
The mill, Babine Forest Products, is co-owned by the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation and Hampton Affiliates of Portland, Oregon. There were 30 men working the night of the explosion; of the 19 injured, 11 remained hospitalized in British Columbia and Alberta.
Police say the blast occurred shortly after 8 p.m. at the sawmill, which is 137 miles west of Prince George.
Workers reported the smell of gas before the explosion, police said. WorkSafe B.C. and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are investigating, but it could take months to unravel the cause, officials said.
Meanwhile the mill’s future remained in doubt as company officials said they’re not sure if they’ll rebuild the mill, which employed as many as 350 people. Speaking to CBC News, Hampton CEO Steve Zika said it could cost $25 million to $100 million to rebuild and that reconstruction could take as long as 18 months.
If the company doesn’t rebuild the mill then First Nations will, said Wilf Adam, chief of Lake Babine Nation.
"I still believe that this is a viable operation and the lifeline of the community,” he said. “If they are not going to step up to the plate, we will. We will spearhead rebuilding the plant.”